When I found out about the St Vincent de Paul Society’s National Congress 2017 earlier this year, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect and what I could contribute, given I had only been with the Society for just under four years and had only been involved in youth programs in Canberra-Goulburn. However, I thought the congress would be a great opportunity to meet other members and broaden my understanding of the wonderful work being done across the country through the Society.
The congress certainly provided these opportunities, but for me it really drove home the message that we need to continue to support our members and volunteers to improve outcomes for our companions. On the one hand, this includes upskilling and building the confidence of members and volunteers to support and empower companions. It also includes acknowledging the important role that members and volunteers play within the Society and providing them with flexible opportunities to continue to participate so that they can balance personal commitments with their Vincentian responsibilities. This is particularly important as we adapt and react to the challenges and opportunities that the future holds.
Another key congress takeaway for me was the importance of active listening and listening without judgement. Throughout the congress, I was reminded of how diverse we are within the Society, in our opinions and lifestyles, and that there is great value in listening and learning from one another. This applies in our interactions with companions as well. As a Society, we need to continue to think about how we can create safe and non-judgemental spaces for our companions so they feel reassured and comfortable in our presence. This will assist us to better understand their needs and how we can support them.
I am hoping to apply these lessons learned to influence positive outcomes for the Society both at local and national levels, particularly in my capacity as Youth Representative for Canberra- Goulburn. The congress was a very valuable learning opportunity for me and has also helped me to better connect the dots in terms of what the Society’s broader purpose is and what I can do as a member and volunteer to support this purpose. I am feeling very enthusiastic and hopeful after my weekend at the congress and look forward to seeing what emerges from all the insightful and passionate discussions we had.
Suhasini Sumithra is Youth Representative for the St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra-Goulburn.